Democrats should nominate a southerner for president or vice president in 1988 in an effort to regain ground in that region, Democratic National Chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr. said yesterday.

Noting that his party has lost four of the past five presidential contests, Kirk said the party has to be able to "embrace all of what's needed to win, and clearly in my view what's needed to win is some significant proportion of the southern region of the country."

Southern Democrats often mentioned as possible presidential or vice-presidential candidates are former Virginia governor Charles S. Robb, Texas Gov. Mark W. White Jr. and Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn.

The only time a Democratic presidential candidate has carried the South since 1964 was in 1976, when former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter was elected president. In 1980, however, Georgia was the only southern state to support Carter, who lost to Ronald Reagan.

Kirk, who has been working to reduce the leverage within the DNC of such groups as blacks, feminists and labor, also endorsed the current drive among southern Democrats to schedule the primaries and caucuses in early March 1988. They argue that such a region-wide primary would increase the South's influence on the Democratic nomination.

Calling the proposal "constructive," Kirk said, "It would be an opportunity for states that have not been supportive of the national party in presidential elections to have more of an impact."

Kirk acknowledged that the existing system of nominating presidential candidates creates the appearance that special interest groups can force promises from candidates. He said, however, "I'd like to believe that after four out of five losses, we'd approach the process somewhat differently."

On another issue, Kirk argued that passage of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings balanced budget legislation will make 1986 "the year of reckoning for the Republican Party," forcing the GOP to "face up to the fact" that meeting the deficit targets will require a tax hike.

He contended that Democrats could put Republicans -- many of whom are adamantly opposed to tax hikes -- in the position of advocating revenue increases because the mandated "cuts are going to come out of the middle-working class" in ways politically unacceptable in an election year.

Kirk was critical of a campaign-financing provision of tax-revision legislation passed by the House. The bill would give individuals a 100 percent credit for the first $100 contributed to candidates for the House or Senate, or $200 on a joint return. Kirk said he thought such a provision would benefit the Republican Party more than the Democratic Party, because the GOP has built up a much larger group of small donors who are more familiar with tax credits than are Democratic donors.